Note: This was originally published as a news column here.
I’m thinking my white privilege began in 1977 when I was introduced to Officer Friendly while attending Old Town Elementary School on Reynolda Road. Officer Friendly didn’t shoot me or cause me bodily injury. He was nice, and friendly, and gave me a good impression of police. I disliked my principals, especially Mr. Larry Womble, for paddling me on occasion.
When I was about 13 in 1984 I ran away from home for the second time. I had been sentenced to my room just after dinner for something that didn’t set well with me. Sometime about 9 p.m. I tossed a nylon Tarheels duffel bag out the window. I had stolen my dad’s credit card five minutes earlier. I snuck out the front door while my family watched TV in the living room. I took the bag and walked down Yadkinville Road to the Burger King on Reynolda Road. I carried a machete with me because I was afraid of dogs. I intended to run away to California and live in a box on the beach like Fletch. I got as far as the NCNB ATM machine next to the Burger King. I had stashed my bag with the machete sticking out behind some bushes and an employee called the police. This was about 1 a.m. When I crossed the parking lot, two officers drew down on me and ordered me to freeze. I complied and was not shot or beaten within inches of my life. The white officer drove me home while the black officer cleaned up the soda and fries he spilled all over the patrol car when he sat on the food while getting in. My father was very unhappy with me when I handed him the $400 and his credit card.
Sometime in early 1988 my friend Darryl stole his father’s new Maxima. He’d stashed it in West Virginia at a co-worker’s house. He’d stolen it from the parking lot of PTI after his dad left it in long-term while going on a business trip. It was February and warm in Winston-Salem. Darryl called me in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to ride with him to pick up a new car. It was a Friday afternoon and I met him and the coworker on Indiana Avenue and we drove to West Virginia to get the car. It started snowing. I had on a thin sweat jacket and jogging pants. We got the car and rode back to Winston-Salem smoking weed and listening to Eric B. and Rakim’s Paid in Full. We stashed the car in Mt. Airy and went back to the WS where we got a room at the Travel Host. In the morning, I drove Darryl back to get the car. He gave me a quarter bag and a pack of 1.5s. They were on the front seat of my car when a state trooper pulled me on US 52 in Stokes County for doing 77 in a 55. I slid a hat over the bag and rolling papers. The trooper asked for my license and gave me a ticket. I was not shot or beaten. I went to work where my mother was waiting for me outside the Food Fair at Thruway. She was very unhappy with me.
I lost my license for speeding later that year. Both my parents were very unhappy with me. I received an 88 in a 55 in Virginia and narrowly avoided arrest. We were going to Smith Mountain Lake after returning from senior beach week. I had at least an ounce of weed and several versions of psychedelics in the car. The trooper asked for my license and gave me a ticket. I was not shot or beaten. Three months later I got popped for 70 in a 55 in Haywood County as we returned to university on Labor Day. I had three guys in the car, two from Greensboro, and we had just passed the bong, which my friend nervously held between his ankles and knees in the back seat as the trooper asked for my license and gave me a ticket. We were not shot or beaten.
In the fall of 1989 I got my license back and the first thing I did was go home from school where my dad had traded my new 1988 Chevy V6 in for a 4-cylinder 1982 Volkswagen Jetta. I guess he thought it was slower. The first night I went to see my friend Wes at Wessex apartments in Winston-Salem where I smoked crack for the second time in my life. We smoked it out of an aluminum can and I got the worst headache ever and decided to leave. An officer of the law fell in behind me on Polo Road as I drove past Wake Forest University. I could barely see and sweated profusely. I turned right on Reynolda and the officer turned behind me. I was considering what jail would be like when he pulled into the left lane and passed me.
I somehow avoided arrest in college despite driving while intoxicated several times a week and being put in an ambulance after falling in 1992. I had a bag of weed and mushrooms in my shirt pocket. After the 20 stitches were in the back of my head the nurse handed me my neatly folded shirt with the drugs still securely in the front pocket. I once was threatened with arrest for resist and delay when I asked an officer if he could turn his blue lights off. He’d pulled my friend John for driving his Jeep CJ-5 the wrong way up a one-way drive to Reynolds Dorm at the very top of WCU’s campus. Officer Holder told me to shut up and go in the dorm or be arrested. I went in the dorm.
My white privilege ran out in 1996. But it was back by 1998. One night my friends and I had been to the La Carreta on Silas Creek Parkway. They sold 60-ounce beer for $2 on Friday. This was before the craft beer movement. We drank and ate and went back to my friend’s place in Ardmore. My friend Paul came over and had some cocaine. Several more people showed up and we realized no one had weed. My girlfriend at the time had left me a stash inside her kitchen windowsill when she’d left to go on a weekend trip. Paul and I decided to go get it. I should mention that opium was around then, and I had a dab of opium in a twist baggie stuck in the top of my Camel Light’s box. Did I mention Paul sold coke? We hit University off Coliseum to head up to Old Town. As we passed Deacon Boulevard I sped up for fun, not noticing the unmarked police cruiser pacing me. He pulled me somewhere near First Assembly of God church at Polo Road.
When I saw the blue lights I knew I was doomed. I told Paul not to move, whatever he did, and not to stuff things in his shoe or under the seat and that if separated to say that I was taking him home. The officer put me in the front of his cruiser and told me to blow on a plastic tip. Sweat poured from my palms and I blew for all I was worth, mostly thinking how I was going to ditch the cigarette pack. The officer, a large black man, looked at the meter readout and said, “well, you blew a four.” I flipped out, and said “damnit, I didn’t think I drank that much.” He said, “no, you blew a .04.” The reality of that sunk in for a minute and I quietly wiped my palms on my jeans. He looked me over and said, “you’ve been very respectful to me, so go on about your way. If you’re always this respectful to a police officer, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
This paid off a few months later when my girlfriend at the time came to pick me up in Durham where I’d moved to live with my mother and explore the music scene. I had joined a reggae band and went to a small apartment in East Durham to practice a few times a week. Heather came and picked me up one Friday and wanted to go to Wilmington. She was a raging alcoholic. She had a half-gallon of Jim Beam in the trunk and a handful of airplane bottles in the passenger seat. I drank an Ice House tall boy. This was still before the craft beer movement. We smoked a bowl somewhere near Beulaville and a trooper pulled me just outside of Wilmington for doing 84 in a 65.
Back in the front seat of his car, which idled on the side of I-40, he began to write me a ticket. I sweated profusely, hoping he wouldn’t smell weed on me. Heather kept the stash in a velvet bag in her purse. The trooper began to sniff me and I knew I was doomed. He said “have you been drinking, son, you smell like liquor.”
I thought for a minute and decided that honesty was the best policy.
“I had a beer when we left Durham and my girlfriend has some Beam and coke in a cup.”
“You can’t have alcohol in the front, son.
Go up there and pour it out and bring me the bottle,” he said.
I got out of his car in the black darkness as traffic whizzed by in a blur of sound and white light. I tapped on Heather’s window and she looked at me with those doe eyes and asked if we were busted? I told her no, but that the trooper said for me to pour her drink out and give him the bottles. She handed me three or four empty airplane bottles and I went back to the patrol car.
Once inside, I handed the little bottles to the trooper. He looked at them incredulously.
“Is that it son? You don’t have a bottle in there?” “No sir, she’s got the bottle in the trunk with her luggage. It’s not open.”
He handed me the bottles back and smirked.
“Throw these away when you get where you’re going. And slow it down.”
He handed me the ticket and told me to go on about my business.
I’ve been doing it ever since.